Shafiq Rahman/South Asian Monitor
Despite being closely monitored and threatened, politicians, students and the common people of Bangladesh are keeping up protests against the on-going oppression in Indian-controlled Kashmir. They are demanding restoration of autonomy to the troubled Muslim-majority Kashmir valley.
About six decades ago, Bangladesh’s founding father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, blamed India’s stubbornness for the unrest in Kashmir. Today, however, his party Awami League and the government led by his daughter Sheikh Hasina, view the Kashmir issue as India’s internal matter.
The government is suppressing protests by threatening potential protesters and keeping them under surveillance.
On 5 August this year, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah tabled a proposal in parliament to abolish Article 370. The proposal was passed due to the absolute majority which the government has in parliament. The autonomy enjoyed by the people of Jammu and Kashmir vanished in a trice. Central government rule was established and strengthened further with the “State” of Jammu and Kashmir being divided into two “Union Territories”. The whole area came under a clampdown and lockdown.
In Dhaka, Islami Andolan, a political party headed by the Charmonai Pir, took to the streets on 6 August. Demonstrations were held throughout the country the next day. Jamiyat-e Ulema-e Islam, led by Nur Hossain Kashemi, demonstrated in Paltan, Dhaka.
Ruling Awami League’s General Secretary Obaidul Quader said that the Bangladesh government is keeping a watch on India’s steps in Kashmir. But the government of Sheikh Hasina is reluctant to comment on the internal affairs of other countries. The Director General of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) Benazir Ahmed said on 9 August: “The Kashmir issue is Indian’s internal affair. No one should try to stir up trouble over the issue.”
But on the very same day, a group of Islamic political parties demonstrated under the banner of Kashmir Solidarity Council at the North Gate of the Baitul Mukarram mosque. Jubo Khelafa and a few other organisations also took to the streets.
On 26 August a programme, ‘Azadir Jonno Cinema’ (Cinema for Freedom) was organised at the Sanjib Square in Dhaka University’s Teacher Student Centre (TSC). The programme screened films and was addressed by Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) Vice President Nurul Huq as well as writers, researchers and leaders of various Left parties. They declared solidarity with the people of Kashmir.
Students of Dhaka University protested on 5 August itself. A few students spontaneously took out a procession. A researcher on South Asian Affairs, Altaf Parvez, uploaded a picture of the procession on his Facebook page and wrote why Bangladeshis must not lose hope. A small solidarity rally in Dhaka University campus in support of the people of Kashmir was held. But it would be wrong to judge by the numbers. They will one day multiply.
In a satire on the government’s ‘internal issue’ stance, Parvez wrote on August 25 that Kashmir has become such an ‘internal affair’ for India that even the descendants of Kashmiri Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru like Congress leader Rahul Gandhi can’t enter it. And the people of Kashmir are so ‘peaceful’ that curfew has been in force for three weeks.
Nevertheless, the Middle East appears elated over the happenings in Kashmir. The United Arab Emirates bestowed the highest civilian honor, the ‘Order of Zayed’, upon visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Bahrain has awarded him the ‘King Hamad Order’. However, New Delhi cannot find any politician like Sheikh Muhammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Srinagar who it can utilize.
There are protests in India too. In the interests of democracy, West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has called for the release of mainstream political leaders in Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.
Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has criticised the government for arresting these political leaders and said, “This is an old colonial excuse. The British ran this country for 200 years in this manner.” Sen said he is no longer proud to be an Indian citizen.
And opposition Congress asks, what does the Modi government want to hide in Kashmir?
Though Modi and Amit Shah say that the Kashmir problem has been resolved, Dhaka University’s Professor on international relations Dr Imtiaz Ahmed does not agree. He said it was Modi’s last ditch attempt to save Kashmir.
The people of Kashmir themselves had stepped up their activities over the last few years and New Delhi’s grip on Kashmir had loosened. But the problem has become more complex now. The future depends on the Kashmir people’s power to build up resistance.
Dhaka University Department of International Relations Professor, Dr Shahiduzzaman, said that the abolition of Article 370 has created a big rift that has questioned India’s history and constitution.
Former Professor of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University, Dilara Chowdhury, said even when there was autonomy, the people were deprived of its benefits. They did not have human rights, education or healthcare. This has become all the more clear now. The Modi government is pushing the entire subcontinent towards uncertainty.
Bangabandhu’s Wise Counsel
About six decades ago, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had suggested a referendum to dispel uncertainty in Kashmir. He advocated the acceptance of the people’s demand for self-rule. His views on the issue appear in his book ‘Karagarer Rojnamcha’ (Prison Diaries).
He wrote, ““No one is less skilled than the other when it comes to torture and opening fire. It is not possible to solve the problem by shooting or arresting. By means of a referendum, India should have accepted the rights of the people of Kashmir to self-determination and forge a permanent peace agreement between the two countries.”
He went on to write, “Instead of spending money on the military sector, Pakistan and India could have spent the funds on the economic development of the two countries. The people of both countries would have benefitted. Since India considers itself devoted to democracy, why do they hesitate to accept the views of the people of Kashmir? This issue will force the two countries to eventually face grave danger.”
Bangabandhu further wrote, “India believes in democracy, so why does it not agree to take the democratic path? It is because they know very well that if there is a referendum, the people of Kashmir will not vote in favour of India. That is why they use repression to maintain their control.”
He continued, “By not reaching a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue, the governments of the two countries have harmed the people of their respective countries. If peace was ushered between the two counties, then instead of spending money on the military sector, it could have been used for development work. The people of both countries would benefit. I feel it is India’s stubborn stance that is responsible for holding back peace.”
Given Bangabandhu’s views, many are interested to know the view of his daughter and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the matter.